The study of language and gender (by linguists) began in earnest with Robin Lakoff’s 1973 article Language and Woman’s Place. In it, she argued that language produced by and about women reflected and reinforced the lower status of women in society. Later scholars (e.g. O’Barr and Atkins) argued that the items described by Lakoff should be labeled “powerless language” rather than “women’s language,” and plenty of scholarly research has shown that these patterns are not unique to women.
Other critics complained that these claims were based heavily on Lakoff’s own (White, middleclass) demographic. Such complaints are legitimate, in that researchers should do their best to ensure that a wide range of demographics are represented in their work if we’re going to make claims about the human experience. At the same time, Lakoff’s work met those complaints head on, acknowledging that her claims were based solely on her own intuitions as a woman. (Perhaps she was taking a jab at linguists who do not generally rely on the intuitions of more than one speaker?) In many ways, her article was a call for more research than research in and of itself.
Society has changed substantially in the last 40 years, but as long as sex and gender continue to be important social distinctions, linguistic differences are likely to follow from them. Here are a few pages of some notable researchers and organizations who specialize in language and gender research.
Rusty Barrett, University of Kentucky
Janet Bing, Old Dominion University
Mary Bucholtz, University of California Santa Barbara
Deborah Cameron, Oxford
Penny Eckert, Stanford
Rudi Gaudio, SUNY Purchase College
Janet Holmes, Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand)
Robin Lakoff, Berkeley
Sally McConnell-Ginet, Cornell
Sarah Mills, Sheffield Hallam University
Deborah Tannen, Georgetown
Ruth Wodak, Lancaster University